Amnesty International has released a report stating that hundreds of unarmed civilians were massacred in less than 48 hours by Eritrean troops in Axum, during the Tigray war in Ethiopia last year.
The report said that the soldiers systematically killed hundreds of civilians by opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity.
Investigators from Amnesty International spoke to survivors and witnesses who described “extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate shelling and widespread looting”, after Ethiopian and Eritrean troops led an offensive to take control of the city during the conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in mid-November.
Amnesty also reported that satellite imagery analysis supported reports of indiscriminate shelling and mass looting in Axum, and appeared to reveal the sites of new mass burials near two of the city’s churches.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa alluded to the fact that the “evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion.
“Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum. Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood.”Deprose Muchena
Ethiopian authorities have not yet responded to Amnesty’s allegations but also issued a statement referring to “complex challenges in the region” and reiterating their intention to arrest senior members of the TPLF, which it described as a criminal “rogue group”.
“The government of Ethiopia will continue bringing all perpetrators to justice following thorough investigations into alleged crimes in the region through our federal institutions … The government of Ethiopia once again reiterates its commitment to enabling a stable and peaceful region in which its citizens’ needs are met and impunity does not prevail for perpetrators of crimes against humanity and crimes against the state.”Ethiopian government
Eritrea on the other hand, condemned the allegations with Yemane Meskel, the country’s Minister of Information positing that his country categorically rejected the “preposterous accusations”. He accused Amnesty of basing its report on the testimonies of refugees in in a camp in Sudan.
Eritrea was at war with Ethiopia until Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed signed a peace deal with Isaias Afwerki, the President of Eritrea in 2018, winning the Nobel peace prize as a result. President Afwerki has seen the TPLF as an enemy for decades and appears to have collaborated in the offensive of last year.
Amnesty said witnesses could easily identify the Eritrean forces by their vehicles’ licence plates, distinctive camouflage and footwear, as well as their use of Arabic or dialects not spoken in Ethiopia. Some soldiers even told residents they were Eritrean.
The city of Axum is known for its ancient ruins and churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox faithful believe that the Ark of the Covenant, built to hold the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments is located there.